You want a piece of the Grand National action, to pick up a winner and make a pile of money on the world’s most watched horse race.
But if you’ve never bet on a horse race before, or don’t know how to get the most out of the betting markets and opportunities available for this race, this is much easier said than done.
With that in mind we’ve put together a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to betting on the Grand National.
When to bet on the Grand National
There are three time periods in which you can place a bet on the Grand National.
1. Up to a month before the race meeting
Odds for the Grand National are published right after the dust settles on the most recent edition of the race. These odds reflect the current form of the horses anticipated to run in the next edition, so are unlikely to be accurate by the time the race is run again.
This will tempt some punters into placing bets, as you may get much higher odds on certain entries than would be possible if you bet closer to the actual race.
However, there is a major drawback to betting during this period. If you place a bet and your horse does not make an appearance on race day you will forfeit your bet.
2. In the weeks prior to the race
The weeks prior to the Grand National are the sweet spot for placing a bet on the race. While the final field will not be declared before race day, you will have a fairly clear picture of what that final field will look like.
The antepost (pre-race) odds markets are also likely to be relatively volatile during this period, which means you’ll have opportunities to get good prices on whichever entries you decide to back.
Most importantly many bookies will offer ‘no-runner no-bet’ guarantees within a couple of weeks of the Grand National. This means any bets you place during this period will be refunded if your horse does not compete in the race.
3. On race day
Grand National hype peaks on the Saturday of the race, and a huge number of bets are placed on this day.
The one advantage of betting on race day is you’ll be putting your money on a horse confirmed to appear in the race.
However, there are a few drawbacks too.
For a start clear favourites will have emerged and the weight of public money on these horses will drive bookies to force down their odds to reduce exposure, resulting in lower payouts if they win.
Then there’s also the fact that most bookies suspend their sign-up and risk-free bet offers on the day of the Grand National, which means you’ll lose out on these offers if you’re placing your first bet.
If you’re betting on the Grand National for the first time you should therefore focus on placing your bets sometime during the week prior to the race and placing those bets at a bookmaker offering no-runner no-bet and a sign-up offer.
Choosing a bookmaker
If you have never placed a bet online before you’ll find that there are many bookies out there who’d love to have your business for the Grand National.
It’s not always easy to know where you should place your bets, particularly when many bookmakers offer lucrative looking sign-up options.
However, you can quickly narrow down your options:
Step 1: Open an account at one of the ‘big five’ bookmakers. These are the major brands that have been around for decades or longer, have rock-solid reputations, excellent websites, and the widest variety of betting markets. These include:
Step 2: Check that the bookmaker in question is licensed to operate in your country. If you’re outside of the UK and Ireland the bookie may be restricted from accepting your business. You can easily find out about these restrictions by browsing the terms of service of the relevant bookie.
Step 3: Make sure that your bookie accepts your payment method. While you’re unlikely to have issues finding a way to deposit and withdraw funds from any major bookie, there are some minor differences in which payment vendors each bookmaker works with.
Step 4: Check how many places the bookie is paying out in the Grand National betting markets. You want as many places as possible paid out to increase your chances of placing a winning bet (more on this shortly).
Step 5: Look out for a focus on specials. All the major bookies now offer frequent betting specials, and each will have its own selection of specials for the Grand National. Paddy Power generally tends to lead in this area, but if you delay your account signup until 24 hours before the race you should be able to compare what specials top bookies are making available for the race and pick the most favourable one.
Step 6: Also pay attention to the sign-up offer. You want a bonus that is both generous and does not require you play through your funds several times to claim it. Also bear in mind that the bookie may suspend this offer on the day of the Grand National or even earlier.
Which market to bet on
Because the Grand National is such a big betting event, bookies can pull several special markets out of their hats that they wouldn’t usually offer for regular races.
This can be confusing to first time punters. So, if you’re placing your first bet on the Grand National you should ignore these and focus on the primary betting markets.
The win bet is the most straightforward bet you can place on the Grand National. Pick your horse and if it wins the race you will be paid out at the odds you selected.
While its simplicity makes it attractive, win betting is not going to offer you the best chance of earning a return on your betting for the race.
That’s because backing the outright winner in a field of 40 horses in a handicap over an extremely challenging racecourse is a tough challenge for even seasoned punters.
And worst of all it won’t reward you if you do your homework and pick a good horse that comes close to winning the race.
A place bet is a much better option than a win bet for your Grand National bets. This bet type allows you to put money on a horse to finish in the ‘places’.
In the context of the Grand National, this means finishing among the top four to seven horses in the field (the number of places covered by a place bet will vary depending on the bookmaker).
If your horse finishes in the places your bet will pay out irrespective of where it finishes in the places – i.e. a 2nd place finish will pay out the same as a 4th place finish.
While place bets are a great option for beginners, they do have a downside. If the horse you selected wins the race, you’ll get a much lower payout than you’d have earned on a win bet.
An each-way bet is the best compromise between place and win bets.
With this type of bet half of your stake is placed on the horse winning the race at the odds you selected.
The other half of your stake is bet on your horse placing in the race, usually at 1/4 to 1/5 of the odds you selected.
If your horse wins you’ll get paid out on both bets, while if your horse places you’ll lose the win half of your stake but earn a payout on the place portion of your bet.
To place an each-way bet all you need to do is select your horse in the win markets and check the ‘each-way’ option on your betting slip when placing your bet.
Forecasts and tricasts
These markets allow you to bet on more than one horse finishing in the top two or three of the race, with an option to wager on their actual finishing order.
Considering how difficult it is to pick a winner in the Grand National, these bet types are not advisable for beginners.
For every additional horse you include in your bet, your odds of winning the bet go down dramatically. So leave the ‘casts aside until you have a better feel for racing betting.
Picking a horse
Picking a horse is the most challenging, and potentially rewarding, part of betting on the Grand National experience.
Having money on a horse transforms the Grand National from a thrilling spectacle into something that will bring you to your feet if your horse pulls away from the chasing pack.
However, picking a horse from a 40 field handicap is no simple task. Here are some ways to pick a selection.
One of the most popular ways of betting in the Grand National requires no expertise or understanding of horse racing at all.
You can write the name or number of each horse in the field on a slip of paper, put them in a hat and bet on the horse you draw out the hat. This is basically the way Grand National sweepstakes work.
You can also look at choosing your horse based on other random features like the horse number, the colour of its coat or even the colour of the jockey’s livery.
Statistically all that these types of bets do is expose you to random chance, which means you’ll have a 1 in 40 chance of winning your bet.
Using the odds
One Grand National betting shortcut is to use the odds on each entry to pick a winner.
With odds loosely correlating with the probability of each horse winning the race, the odds tables will give you a reasonable rough picture of which horses have a real chance of winning the race.
There are problems with this approach, however.
Foremost amongst these is that the odds on Grand National runners will to some extent reflect where betting money is going.
And that betting money is being pumped into the markets by people who may not know much more about racing than you do and are getting behind the favourites.
This will nevertheless influence prices as bookies attempt to minimize their exposure (the amount they can lose) on popular entries by dropping the prices on these entries.
The more money bet on popular entries, the more money those entries will attract., the more their odds will contract. This means that favourites in the Grand National are often wildly under-priced.
To complicate matters a horse that’s price drops well under 10/1 may genuinely have a serious chance of winning the race.
Odds should be just one factor you use in picking a winner, but simply following the betting market is basically jumping on a bandwagon that could be headed off the edge of a cliff.
A note on the tote
Major bookmakers will also offer you the option to place bets on the tote betting markets in the United Kingdom.
These odds are set differently to the fixed odds offered by bookies, and the payouts are also handled differently due to the fact that these are communal betting pools.
Tote markets have a number of popular prediction markets that can generate large payouts and bonuses or jackpots.
As is the case with forecast and tricast bets, as well as special betting markets, these are not ideal for either first time punters or betting on the Grand National.
So if you’re a first time punter, give the tote markets a miss until you have a firmer grip on horseracing and the basic fixed odds markets offered by bookies.
Using the form
If you’re going to bet on the Grand National, then you should at least look at the form of the horses in the field.
Past performances provide useful clues about how a horse will perform this time around. These are represented by a string of letters and/or numbers beside the horse’s name on its race card.
Here are some things to look out for:
- A 1, 2 or 3 indicates a strong recent performance where the horse won or placed in a race.
- Any other number indicates a finishing position, with a ‘0’ indicating a finish outside the top 10.
- A ‘–‘ indicates that any races following it were from the previous season.
- A ‘/’ indicates that the races following it took place two or more seasons ago.
- An ‘F’ indicates the horse fell. If this happened recently, you’ll want to give this horse a miss, it could be carrying an injury. The same goes for a ‘B’ which indicates the horse was knocked down by another horse in that race.
- Don’t worry too much if you see a ‘P’ – the horse was pulled up in that race. However, there could be several reasons for this that would not affect its Grand National performance.
- A ‘U’ or ‘R’ indicates the rider was unseated or the horse refused to jump an obstacle. Both cast doubt over the horse’s temperament but should not rule it out of contention.
Some other things to look out for on the form data are:
- Whether the horse has previously competed at Aintree – previous Grand National appearances or runs over the Grand National course are valuable.
- Whether the horse has previously won over a long distance. Any win over a distance great than 3 miles proves that the horse is a genuine stayer.
- If the horse has an established track record with the jockey it will be partnering in the Grand National - some jockeys have a knack for bringing the best out of particular horses.
- If the horse has won a race carrying a similar weight to what it will bear in the Grand National.
(For more information you can read our guide to reading horse form here).
There is no exact science for picking out horses using the above criteria. Instead, what you want to do is look for horses where several factors count in their favour.
This will include:
- A place achieved in a recent race.
- The place achieved over a stayer’s distance.
- A previous win at Aintree.
- A win carrying a comparable weight to what will be carried in the Grand National.
Chances are that any horse that ticks all these boxes will already be among the lower priced entries for the race.
However, don’t worry if the horse you find is listed at much higher odds, for example 33/1 or 50/1. A horse with decent prospects and high odds is exactly what you are looking for.
Conversely you do need to pay attention if you find your horse is only available at exceptionally low odds (anything under 8/1 is a very low price in the Grand National).
Because you will be placing an each-way bet you need to be certain that your horse will pay out a return on the overall bet if it places in the race without winning.
So, if your each-way bet is paying out ¼ odds to 5th place, you need to ensure your horse is priced over 4/1.
Any price above this margin will refund your original stake and return a profit. Likewise, if your each way bet is paying out 1/5 odds to 5th place you will need to back a horse priced over 5/1.